Holiday Picks from The Queen’s Quill

I am finally finishing The Cross and the Dragon. I do apologize for taking so long. I hope to have a review up by the end of this week.

Since it’s the holiday season, and books are always a good gift (if you are part of the gift-giving crowd), here is a roundup of my favorite Indie review books from 2012. Honestly, the books I am listing were all engaging and engrossing reads–and the narratives and settings were so varied–that I simply cannot chose just one to recommend as an overall best book. This was a great year for Indie reading!

Spirit of Lost Angels-Liza Perrat

Vivaldi’s Muse-Sarah Bruce Kelly

Burning Silk– Destiny Kinal

Sea Witch-Helen Hollick

Oleanna-Julie K. Rose

The Afflicted Girls-Suzy Witten

Happy Holidays and I will see you at the end of the week for the next review.

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Review: Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly

 

What a pleasure to have found an enjoyable self-published work of “pure” historical fiction (“pure” meaning, to me, the imagined lives of true historical figures)—my favorite type of story!  Vivaldi’s Muse is as professionally written and well put together as any mainstream-published novel of this type. This engrossing novel explores the life of Annina Giró, protégée of the prolific Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi.  The story is set in sparkling 18th-century Italy and skillfully depicts the cutthroat world of the operatic performer and the fickle musical tastes of the time…

Annina always wanted to be an opera singer, and when she meets Antonio Vivaldi when he is in residence in her hometown of Mantua, she knows exactly where she wants her future to lie. She aims to achieve that goal even as she experiences hopelessness, abandonment, and a destructive rivalry between herself and her professional nemesis, Chiara. Ultimately, through the help of a generous but lascivious benefactor, Annina is able to follow her dreams to Venice and beyond, but must pay a hefty price for these dreams…

Author Sarah Bruce Kelly brings the musical world of 18th-century Venice alive. The author herself is a professional musician and scholar of music history, and one couldn’t imagine a more suitable author to write this book, as the love and passion for her subject is deeply embedded in this story. The fine details about the business and the art of the opera, the portrayal of Venice herself as a major character, the affecting and sensitively rendered descriptions of Vivaldi and Annina and their evolving relationship, as well as the strong sense of atmosphere and foreboding, have been well executed, allowing everyone—not just aficionados of Vivaldi’s music or the opera—to enter into this private world.

Annina’s victimization by and the intense and vicious rivalry with Chiara is faintly reminiscent of the relationship between Chiyo and Hatsumomo in Arthur Golden’s wonderful Memoirs of a Geisha. The animosity between the rivals kept the level of tension in the story high in Memoirs, and does the same for Vivaldi’s Muse. This reader would  have enjoyed learning more in depth about Chiara—what made her act so abominably and with such commitment to Annina’s downfall..

The author also adroitly illustrates the extroverted, hot-headed nature of the Venetians, as exemplified in this humorous exchange between gondoliers witnesseJd by Annina and her sister Paolina:

 “Bauko!” shrieked one gondolier, “you idiot! You’ve wrecked my boat!”

“Ti xe goldon!” rejoined the other, “you ass! It was my right to enter the canal first!”

Fury mounted and they reviled each other as the offspring of assassins and prostitutes.

“Spawn of a bloody executioner!”

“Bastard of a hideous whore!”

Fists waved and pounded into palms, and faces contorted. With a vehemence that would make the devil blush, they each defamed the other’s female relatives down to the remotest cousin. Finally, his passion spent, one of the men calmly gathered his oar and gave the other the right of way. (p 54)

What wonderfully descriptive writing!

In fairness, I must mention a few minor distractions that I noticed in the text—one being that the writing occasionally glides quickly over events in a “talking rather than showing” manner. I do realize that the number of concerts or events covered in this time period were substantial and that, given the size of the book at over 400 pages, something had to give, but I did find this device a bit distracting.

I found very few—perhaps four or five—typos in the book, but they were significant enough to draw me out of the story for a few minutes each. I think one more copy edit would correct that problem. And finally, there are moments in the novel when a modern phrase slips in, something so out of character for the 18th century that I had to pause. For example, the phrase “now she was talking” (taken as contemporary jargon rather than a literal phrase) on pg 242 was a bit of a shock. Another was on pg 269: “’Blast,’ he thought, ‘the party is underway!’” I don’t know if this Briticism was used in 18th-century Venice…

Despite these minimal distractions, I highly recommend Vivaldi’s Muse. Once again, I don’t understand why a mainstream publisher would bypass an engaging work like this one. With professional marketing and a snappier cover design, this delightful and absorbing novel would be an irresistible find on any bookstore shelf.

Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly. Bel Canto Press, 2012, 437 pp, paperback, 978-0983630401

Disclaimer: A copy of the novel was sent to me gratis from the author.

Next up for review…

…will be Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse, which was the 2011 winner of the Tyler R. Tichelaar Award for Historical Fiction (as part of the Reader Views Literary Awards).  I am so excited to begin this one! At over 400 pages, though, the novel may take a while  for me to read, and I have one other review commitment before I can begin, so I will try to have the review up in August.

Oleanna, Darkness into Light, and what’s coming next…

I have completed Oleanna and Darkness into Light. I am holding myself back from writing a full review for Oleanna right now, due to the fact that I am reviewing this for the HNS and it is our policy not to post reviews on our personal blogs until after the issue has come out. I plan on adding a link to the HNS review, which is limited to 300 words, as well as elaborating on my comments here, in August. To summarize my thoughts on Oleanna, however, I found it to be a gently told tale with quiet depth, atmospherically stark yet richly detailed (how can that be? I will explain in the review), like the culture and the people of Norway herself. Quite beautiful.

For Sam Baty’s post-WW2 thriller, Darkness into Light, which continues the adventures of Jennifer and Otto (survivors from the first adventure during the war), I would write exactly the same review for this book as I had for the first installment. Thus, the problem with reviewing books in a series. In order to avoid useless repetition, I will simply direct you to the first review, HERE.

Next up: Eucalyptus and Green Parrots (Lori Eaton) 

THEN: Vivaldi’s Muse (Sarah Bruce Kelly), Spirit of Lost Angels (Liza Perrat), The Concubine’s Gift (K. Ford K), Saving Gerda (Lilian Darcy–with its beautiful cover–I really wish this wasn’t only an e-book!), and The Other Alexander (Alexander Levkoff). That should take us into the winter, and I am trying to read faster so that I can also fit in a few other e-book  titles before the new year.

Our Summer Reading Journey Begins…

I am grateful and thrilled to have been offered so many intriguing books to review, and I regret that I cannot set aside the time to review them all this summer! If I haven’t responded back to your query yet, I will; please be patient.

This summer we will journey from WW2 Argentina to post-WW2 Europe; from the world of classical music in 18th-century Venice to a family tale set in early  20th-century Norway; from late 18-century France and the heart of the Revolution to  the exciting and treacherous  world of pirates, and from a rebellious king’s daughter’s adventure in chaotic medieval Europe back to the present with a contemporary love story set in small-town Pennsylvania.

*Please be aware that if I feel I cannot do the book justice after 50 pages, I will be sure to let the author know of my decision and update the schedule. All plot descriptions are borrowed from amazon.com.

June’s book is the second in Sam Baty’s  adventure-thriller series, Darkness into Light:

Even though the ferocious battles of World War II have concluded, the world is unfortunately not a safer place. The iron curtain has dropped in front of Eastern Europe, Josef Stalin is focused on world domination, and United States Army nurse Jennifer Haraldsson is on a mission to find her former patient and foe, German POW Otto Bruner. Once attracted to Otto until wartime secrets divided them, Jennifer must know the truth. Does she love him or not? After Otto is transferred to a detention camp in West Germany, he remains devastated by the loss of Jennifer and witnessing the post-war destruction of his beloved Germany only makes it worse. Desperate to win Jennifer back, Otto summons his friend Ernst Peiper to help, but they soon discover they are being targeted by a group of Nazi extremists and must be transferred to another camp. But Otto is ready to risk everything for love and escapes off the transporter truck into the dark of the night. In a last-ditch effort to rendezvous, Otto and Jennifer throw caution to the wind and cross into the other’s territory, never realizing that their unsettled world is much more complicated than they ever imagined.

July: Eucalyptus and Green Parrots by Lori Eaton:

Virginia Reed has followed her husband, Clem, to Argentina, trading in her mother’s Texas poultry factory for an apartment in Buenos Aires and a cocktail-bright social life among American expatriates. But it is 1943. The Nazis have overrun Europe, Japan dominates the Pacific, and Allied and Axis agents are fighting a secret war for control of Argentina. When Clem’s clandestine activities put her family at risk, Virginia is shaken from her comfortable life and forced to take control of her family’s destiny. As Virginia navigates the political undercurrents of a country struggling to remain neutral in a war that is consuming the world, she finds friends in unlikely places and enemies frighteningly close to home. In the face of conflicting loyalties and desires, Virginia uncovers a hidden strength and a dormant thirst for independence.

August: Vivald’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly:

Vivaldi’s Muse explores the life of Annina Girò, Antonio Vivaldi’s longtime protégée. Annina first falls under the spell of the fiery and intriguing prete rosso (red-haired priest) at a young age, when Vivaldi is resident composer at the court of Mantua, her hometown. Stifled by the problems of her dysfunctional family, she has long dreamed of pursuing operatic stardom, and her attraction to the enchanting Venetian maestro soon becomes inseparable from that dream.

One review for August issue of HNS Indie Reviews: Julie K. Rose’s Oleanna:

Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author’s great-great-aunts. Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth are the last of their family working their farm deep in the western fjordland. A new century has begun, and the world outside is changing, but in the Sunnfjord, their world is as small and secluded as the verdant banks of a high mountain lake. The arrival of Anders, a cotter living just across the farm’s border, unsettles Oleanna’s peaceful but isolated existence. Sharing a common bond of loneliness and grief, Anders stirs within her the wildness and wanderlust she has worked so hard to tame. When she is confronted with another crippling loss, Oleanna must decide once and for all how to face her past, claim her future, and find her place in a wide new world.

September:  Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat:

Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her poor peasant roots. Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in Paris, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the ancien régime. Can she muster the bravery and skill to join the revolutionary force gripping France, and overthrow the corrupt, diabolical aristocracy?

Spirit of Lost Angels traces the journey of a bone angel talisman passed down through generations. The women of L’Auberge des Anges face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse.

Amidst the tumult of revolutionary France, this is a story of courage, hope and love.

In between these intriguing books, I am chomping at the bit to dive into the next two books in Helen Hollick‘s fantastic Sea Witch Series: the second voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne, Pirate Code; and the third, Bring it Close: “meticulously researched, full-blooded adventures full of heart-stopping action, evil villains, treasure, and romance.” I would also like to do an interview about her publishing experiences of going from mainstream to Indie.

I am also trying to squeeze in two e-books, the first, Wanting Rita by *Elyse Douglas (which looks to be an intriguing contemporary novel–I think–not my normal type of reading selection):

When his high school sweetheart experiences a devastating tragedy, Dr. Alan Lincoln reluctantly returns to his Pennsylvania hometown to see her. It’s been 15 years. Rita was a small town beauty queen—his first love whom he has never forgotten. He was a nerd from a wealthy family. Her family was poor. They formed a strong connection during their senior year, but Rita married someone else, and the marriage ended tragically.

Alan’s marriage of three years is disintegrating, and he sees in Rita the chance to begin again with the true love of his life. Rita has been mentally and emotionally shattered, but she reaches out to Alan and fights to build a new life with him. During a passionate summer, however, the past and present converge and threaten their rekindled love, as Alan and Rita must struggle with old ghosts and new secrets.

*Elyse Douglas is the pen name for the husband and wife writing team of Elyse Parmentier and Douglas Pennington

And the second,  Loud, Disorderly, and Boisterous by Adam M. Johnson:

Imagine for a moment that you are a dangerously clever, thoroughly over-educated sixteen year old, who feels wholly disconnected from her current station in life and hates her father. Imagine also that you have the further misfortune to find yourself alive during the 13th Century, that your father is the philistine king of a small Central European country, and that he does not approve of the fact that you can quote Aristotle more expertly than you can curtsy. Finally, to top everything off, imagine that you have just learned that you are to be married off to a German nobleman who believes that you will make an excellent pawn in an ongoing struggle to become Holy Roman Emperor…

What do you do?

If your name is Aletheia––first and only daughter of his Royal Highness Edward IX, and most indubitably born in the wrong century––you proceed to flee. If your name is Aletheia, you also find yourself embarking on a bizarre and comic odyssey across perilously chaotic medieval Europe. During her journey our heroine will encounter cross dressing Romanians, bamboozle criminally incompetent highwaymen, crush spherically odious tutors (using only the power of pure logic), and, in at least one desperate instance, impersonate the Virgin Mary, all in the hopes of reaching a final destination that is about to be sacked by an army of waylaid Crusaders…

**************************************************************************************************

So many wonderful authors have sent me requests for intriguing Indie titles that I wish I didn’t have a full-time job so I could accept everything! I am rather booked up for the summer at this point, but if you can wait a little longer for a review (until the fall), I’m happy to accept queries.

Thank you so much to everyone who has been visiting and requesting reviews!

The Summer Line Up

I will soon be completing Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch, and will post a review as soon as I am able. The line up for the next few months is as follows:

May review:The Duke Don’t Dance by Richard Sharp  (All summaries from Amazon.com):

Compressed between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom were those who became known to some by the ill-chosen name of the Silent Generation. They were those born too late to share in the triumph of the great victory, too early to know only the privilege of the American empire and in too few numbers to assure themselves a proper identity and proper legacy. Despite those attributes, they invented rock and roll, filled the streets in the struggle for racial equality, bled in the heated precipitates of the cold war and opened the doors to the sexual revolution and feminism, her serious-minded sister. Their triumph lay not in their completion of these transitions, but in their survival through them. The Duke Don’t Dance follows the adult lives of men and women who made that journey.

This book may not fall under the category of historical fiction exactly, but it comes close.

June review: The second in Sam Baty’s thriller series, Darkness into Light:

Even though the ferocious battles of World War II have concluded, the world is unfortunately not a safer place. The iron curtain has dropped in front of Eastern Europe, Josef Stalin is focused on world domination, and United States Army nurse Jennifer Haraldsson is on a mission to find her former patient and foe, German POW Otto Bruner. Once attracted to Otto until wartime secrets divided them, Jennifer must know the truth. Does she love him or not? After Otto is transferred to a detention camp in West Germany, he remains devastated by the loss of Jennifer and witnessing the post-war destruction of his beloved Germany only makes it worse. Desperate to win Jennifer back, Otto summons his friend Ernst Peiper to help, but they soon discover they are being targeted by a group of Nazi extremists and must be transferred to another camp. But Otto is ready to risk everything for love and escapes off the transporter truck into the dark of the night. In a last-ditch effort to rendezvous, Otto and Jennifer throw caution to the wind and cross into the other’s territory, never realizing that their unsettled world is much more complicated than they ever imagined.

July review: Eucalyptus and Green Parrots by Lori Eaton:

Virginia Reed has followed her husband, Clem, to Argentina, trading in her mother’s Texas poultry factory for an apartment in Buenos Aires and a cocktail-bright social life among American expatriates. But it is 1943. The Nazis have overrun Europe, Japan dominates the Pacific, and Allied and Axis agents are fighting a secret war for control of Argentina. When Clem’s clandestine activities put her family at risk, Virginia is shaken from her comfortable life and forced to take control of her family’s destiny. As Virginia navigates the political undercurrents of a country struggling to remain neutral in a war that is consuming the world, she finds friends in unlikely places and enemies frighteningly close to home. In the face of conflicting loyalties and desires, Virginia uncovers a hidden strength and a dormant thirst for independence.

I’d like to review Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse at some point, as it looks like a splendid read, as well as Before the Fall by Orna Ross and The Silk Weaver’s Daughter by Elizabeth Kales. For the August edition of the HNS Indie Reviews, I will be reviewing Oleanna by Julie K. Rose (and will also post comments about the book here). What a wonderful summer of reading ahead!!